Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sherman Indian Boarding School

Today I'm in Riverside, and spent the afternoon looking through old ledgers and xeroxes of old ledgers - lists of Indian children sent to boarding school. I was hoping to find some of my dad's cousins, the Cotas, Ruizes, Robles cousins he thought had gone to Sherman.

The ledgers have only recently become valuable; they're available on microfilm, but I was allowed to go through some of the actual books. I thougth of my mother, going through the mission records for so many years. she really wanted to come to Riverside and see these books, too. I hope she was peering over my shoulder.

Some of these books should be retired soon; till then, I'm allowed to touch these pages of perfect penmanship, lives held as if in a spell.

It's deeply moving to see even just the names of these children, usually quite far from home in more ways than simple mileage. They are names, ages, blood percentage in these ledgers ... name after name after name. Who knew these ledgers would become a strange kind of memorial, like the The Wall in D.C.? Of course, most of the student names have been adapted for ease of the English tongue. A few Hopis prevail; lots of Hispanic first and last names; and, occasionally, names that bear the mark of invasion: Jack Coffee Grounds on this page. On another page, the last name "UncaSam."

So many tribes, brought together in hopes that their individual tribal identities would wash out, that the resulting students would be first just "Indian," and then, just "Americans." Working-class Americans, of course: boys trained as farmers or typesetters or cooks, girls trained as launderesses, maids, domestics. Productive and completely unimaginative citizens (legal citizens after 1924, anyway) whose sweat would support the upperclass's leisure time.

I recognized Marmons, from Laguna Pueblo author Lesley Marmon Silko's family, I believe.

Klamath, Pomo, Ute, Pueblo, Walapai, Digger, Nez Perce, Hopi, Mojave... A "Digger" is not actually a tribal name, by the way. The word is an epithet used by 49'ers who never saw Northern California Indians in a healthy, vigorous, pre-contact state. Instead, whites rushing in from the East to the goldmines found starving, diseased, traumatized survivors of genocide, whose food supply had been so decimated that oftentimes only by digging and eating roots - normally part of a much fuller diet - could they find anything to eat. Hence, "digger." It rhymes with nigger.

Outside the small building that houses The Sherman Museum are two great sage bushes. One is white sage, with a twisted, woody trunk. The smaller sage, with purple flowers, I'm not sure of - but it is sage. These two have obviously been there at the gate for a long time. I like to think they serve as filters, smudges. Two small branches had been broken off, lay on the ground. I took a handful of those leaves inside with me and all day long my hands smelled of blessing.

Here are the names I found that might belong to our family:

Alma Cota, age 13, grade 7, 1/4 Mission, Catholic (1937-1938).

Louis Garcia, age 14, grade 8, 3/8 Mission, Catholic (1936-37)

Santos Ruiz, age 20, grade 10, 1/4 Mission, Catholic. (1936-37)

Richard Garcia, age 19, 3/8 Mission, Catholic.

Josephine Ruiz, age 16, grade 9, 1/4 Mission, 1928.

Andres Robles, grade 1A, 1912. (this and the following entries did not list tribal affiliation or blood quantum)

Emma Ruiz, grade 4, 1912.

George Ruiz, grade 4, 1912.

Marcus Ruiz, grade 5, 1912.

Concepcion Miranda, grade 4. 1914.

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